After Minnesota’s 34-3 victory over Dallas, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
We spent much of Sunday chronicling the Vikings’ dominating defensive effort. (Colleague Gene Wojciechowski covered quarterback Brett Favre’s day here.) As we discussed, the Vikings overwhelmed the Cowboys in the trenches. How overwhelming was it? From a historical/statistical perspective, it was one of the most dominating performances in NFL playoff history. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was only the third time a team had combined at least six sacks and six other tackles for negative yardage in the same game. The other two occasions came during the 1986 playoffs (Cleveland against the N.Y. Jets) and two years ago (Jacksonville against the Pittsburgh). “We had to win certain battles up front in order for us to have a successful day,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “It’s pretty much that way for us. That’s how we’re built. Our defensive line really carries our defense, whether it be run or pass, but particularly defending the pass. We led the league in sacks for a reason. We have some guys that can really get after the passer and they did it today.”
Some of you might be weary of my regular mentions of otherwise anonymous linebacker Ben Leber. But I thought Sunday’s game was a classic example of his consistent ability to be in the right spot. When Jared Allen stripped Dallas quarterback Tony Romo in the second quarter, Leber was there to fall on the ball. When the player Leber was assigned to cover in the third quarter stayed in the pocket to pass protect, Leber floated into the flat and intercepted a pass intended for Patrick Crayton. Leber also tied cornerback Cedric Griffin for a team-high nine tackles. In other words, a typical game for one of the Vikings’ least-known starters.
I thought it was a smart move for the Vikings to elevate their use of rookie Percy Harvin in the backfield. We’ve been discussing this dynamic since the first week of the regular season, but for the most part the Vikings left it dormant. Were they waiting for the playoffs? I’m not sure if we’ll give them that much credit, but the bottom line is it puts maximum pressure on a defense when Harvin joins Adrian Peterson on the field. You can’t chase two elite open-field runners, especially if they’re headed in opposite directions. On Sunday, Harvin rushed three times for 23 yards, including once from the Wildcat formation in the second quarter. There were also perhaps a half-dozen plays when Harvin circled into the backfield after the snap as a decoy. It can’t be their base offensive set for obvious reasons, but if nothing else, it’s a fool-proof change of pace.
And here is one question I’m still asking:
Actually, someone asked me this question Sunday: Is Sidney Rice the best receiver left in the playoffs? I would probably give that nod to Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne. But I will say this: No receiver has spawned more confidence from his quarterback this season than Rice has with Favre. Rice’s size and ball skills have convinced Favre he can make any catch against any coverage. If he spies Rice in single coverage on the outside, it’s almost a given he’ll throw it his way. Rice’s performance Sunday was among the most explosive for a receiver in NFL postseason history. According to Elias, Rice is one of six receivers all-time to catch at least three touchdown passes and total at least 140 yards receiving in a playoff game.